Ethnography and Literature

Jeff Mielke

in Tropics of Savagery

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780520265783
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520947665 | DOI:
Ethnography and Literature

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This chapter examines the early development of Japanese anthropology and its influence on colonial literature. Western scholars introduced the science of anthropology to Japan in the 1870s and conducted the first scientific investigations into the origins of Japanese people. Within a decade, Japanese scholars “nationalized” this foreign science and brought it to bear on the aboriginal population of Taiwan, which quickly became the first overseas field in which Japanese anthropologists could work. In the next few decades, colonial ethnographers expanded their fieldwork to embrace all of the new territories that fell under Japan's dominion. As a genre of writing about aboriginal societies, ethnography provided a model for the writer Satō Haruo, who traveled to Taiwan in 1920 and became acquainted with the ethnographer Mori Ushinosuke. A few years after he returned to Japan, Satō wrote Machō (Demon Bird), a short story based on a passage in Mori's ethnography. The ethnographer-narrator of “Demon Bird” writes about an episode of persecution in an unnamed barbarian village. At the same time, the story he tells is an allegory about Japanese persecution of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake. “Demon Bird” is a story that uncovers unexpected links between colony and metropolis. The work appeared at a time when criticism of Japan's colonial policies by liberal and reformist intellectuals was at its peak.

Keywords: Japanese anthropology; colonial literature; Taiwanese aborigines; ethnography; Satō Haruo; Demon Bird

Chapter.  16316 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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